Friday, 15 June 2012

Dancing Across The Sinai

Cliches are not my style, so in claiming 'Holiday of a Lifetime' I am serious.

Ten days, in Egypt, with my Arabian Dance Class - it WAS incredible. The journey into the desert was eventful enough - the flight to Cairo within weeks of 9/11, for a while, seemed unlikely to happen at all.. From Cairo to Sharm-el-Sheik by minibus was more demanding on my tender rear than camel riding turned out to be. Fortunately.

The 'mock bedouin camp' hotel in S el S was a culture shock. I was propositioned by a young man who would have done most things for $10 ... I tried not to be REALLY shocked. I didn't know where to direct my anger, so I kept it to myself.

The Bedouin who hosted our group were commissioned by a charitable trust, and paid fairly.

'Day Three, 'Meet The Camels'.

So said the itinerary. Sinai camels, I was reassured, are gentle beasts, not like their vicious Sahara cousins. Fair enough - apart from a tendency to hang me up in thorny acacia trees as he reached for a snack, Azell and I got on well enough.

(I shall never forget the 'three lurch' mount-and rise motion. Lurch one, I scramble into the saddle and take up the reins. Lurch two, Azell raises himself up, from kneeling , onto his front feet, lurch three, Azell raises himself onto all fours, and with a little encouragement, we're off!)

For seven days Faranjela's clan pitched camp for the group, cooked for us and watched, amused, as we pursued our plans. Early each morning we would  rise at dawn and rehearse; an exotic addition to the spectacular desert scenery. We would then camel from place to place, going where all tourists do, then in the evenings we would dance, in costume, to oud and drum, round the camp fire.

I have clambered up ancient sand dunes, visited prehistoric villages, climbed Mount Sinai, danced with Bedouin women, bought countless beaded items, swam in the Red Sea and slept under the stars.

A friend told me before I went, that no-one returns from the desert the same person that entered it. It's true. It's true.

Wednesday, 13 June 2012

One of Those Days

In part to assuage my leftie conscience, partly as an expression of my wibbly-wobbly faith, I go out on the streets with Gloucester City Mission.

Today was hard. Today was the day I would have chosen to take the street people's elected representative out with me for an appreciation of how the bottom third live.

Some of it's good. The Day Centre for the homeless is bright and comfortable with facilities for making drinks, and occasional meals.Today, a nurse was visiting, checking on the expectant mothers, dispensing prescriptions... .

Some, not all. Marta is heartbroken because her partner Vlad drowned in the canal last week. She has so little English that reporting him missing was almost impossible. And what does she do now? She's destitute, lives in a tent, has no money to bury her dead. I am told that street people who die often spend months in the morgue while bureaucrats wrangle over who pays for the funeral. The cost of a funeral is less than that of keeping a body on ice for six months. But hey! The paperwork 's in order.

Dave has osteoporosis and lung disease. He has a debilitating condition brought on by a wheat allergy, that is still in the process of being diagnosed. He is depressed and anxious because he was declared fit for work last week by a doctor who's name he doesn't know, who couldn't even offer the dignity of politeness. His own doctor testifies that Dave is unfit, but - what would he know?

You should have seen the appeal I wrote - stuffed with facts the State doctor should have known, or should have taken into account. I used long words and proper punctuation. I was polite.

Well, I have returned to my beautiful home ten miles from the city centre. I guess after a glass of wine and a good meal, I shan't mind quite so much.